Are Science and Religion at War?

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Are Science and Religion at War?

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With many religious groups protesting the teaching of evolution at school and the resounding proclamations of scientists with personal, anti-religious views, it often seems that the two sides – religion and science – are at war.  But just how representative are these conflicts? And should we trust journalists as presenters of the final truth? 

Many come to the conclusion that science and religion simply examine different realms of human experience. The argument has often been that science deals with the natural world, whereas religion addresses the spiritual and supernatural. Contrary to popular opinion, one certainly does not have to be an atheist in order to be a scientist. A survey of scientists carried out in 2005 at top research universities found that over 48% had a religious affiliation and over 75% believe that religions reveal important truths (Ecklund & Scheitle, 2007). For example, Francis Collins, former director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, along with George Coyne, astronomer and priest have been unreserved about the satisfaction they find in understanding the world from both the perspective of science and of personal faith. 

However, this is not to suggest that religion and science are never in conflict. Disagreements often arise when the distinction between the natural and supernatural world begin to blur. For example, when Christian doctrine makes the strong claim that the earth was created in six days. Many atheists and people of faith find it difficult to come to terms with this literal interpretation of the Bible.

When Charles Darwin went to Cambridge to become an Anglican clergyman, he did not doubt the literal truth of the Bible. He learnt John Herschel’s science which looked for explanations in laws of nature instead of miracles and saw the adaptation of species during evolution as evidence of design. Whilst on board the HMS Beagle, Darwin was rather orthodox and often quoted the Bible as an authority regarding morality. To explain distribution he looked for “centres of creation” and claimed that the antlions in Australia and England were evidence of the divine hand. 

Upon his return, he began to doubt the Bible as history and questioned why all religions were not considered equal. He gave a lot of thought to religion and openly discussed his confusion about the existence of evil under the government of a benevolent God. To Darwin, natural selection allowed the good of adaptation and removed the need for design, and he could not see the work of divine omnipotence in all the pain and suffering. Though Darwin considered religion a tribal survival strategy, he was reluctant to give up the idea of God as an ultimate lawgiver. 

Darwin once stated that it is “absurd to doubt that a man might be an ardent theist and an evolutionist.” Although he did not often readily reveal his religious views, in 1879 he wrote “I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of God. – I think that generally… an agnostic would be the most correct description of my state of mind”. The Last Hope Story, published in 1915, claims that Darwin reverted to Christianity on his sickbed. 

Many scientists carry out research whilst maintaining religious beliefs. Studying and questioning the nature of both areas of knowledge may deepen awareness of our true place in the world.

 

References

Ecklund, E.H., & Scheitle, C.P. (2007). Religion among academic scientists:

     Distinctions, disciplines, and demographics. Social Problems, 54(2),

     289-307. 

University of California, Berkeley Staff. (n.d.). Science and religion:

     Reconcilable differences. Retrieved October 12, 2019, from Understanding

     Science website: https://undsci.berkeley.edu/article/science_religion 

Wikipedia Staff. (n.d.). Charles Darwin. Retrieved October 12, 2019, from

     Wikipedia website: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/

     Charles_Darwin#Religious_views

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